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362995: Nonfiction: Essential Beginnings

  • Fall 2018
  • Section 1
  • 2 Credits
  • 10/16/2018 to 11/20/2018
  • Modified 09/17/2018


Sometimes the best stories are true. To help you turn your personal experiences, anecdotes from everyday life, and family stories into compelling narratives, this workshop teaches beginning writers the basic elements of good storytelling. You learn how to excavate memories and discover fresh or unexpected facets of your life stories. Through weekly exercises, you generate new material and learn an array of fictional techniques to tell your nonfiction story, including how to play with voice, focus on a small unit of time, and describe landscape and character. By the course's completion, you will have in hand a series of short sketches or a draft of a nonfiction piece.


By the end of this course, students should be able to 

  • Understand the difference between fiction and nonfiction
  • Identify basic elements of nonfiction, including elements of fiction
  • Implement in their writings the elements and strategies covered in this course
  • Employ reading like a writer, writing frequently, and revision as part of their creative writing process
  • Participate effectively in workshops


Courage & Craft: Writing Your Life Into Story

  • Author: Barbara Ambercrombie


Your course grade will be based on the following criteria: Participation in and thoughtful contributions to weekly class discussions and workshops, improvement in your writing skills and understanding of creative writing and workshopping, effort in discussion and writing assignments, completion of all assignments as assigned--including meeting deadlines, and maintaining a positive attitude throughout the quarter.

60 points total possible: 10 points each week. 

60-54 points: A+ - A-    

53-48 points: B+ - B-  

47-42 points: C+-C-    

41-0 points: F

Credit Status: I must give you the type of grade you signed up for. 

Course Policies

For six weeks, we'll come together as a supportive and kind creative writing community to express yourselves creatively in writing, share our ideas, and learn from each other. You'll develop your writing skills and story ideas, and have some discoveries along the way. With corazon, I will guide you and share as much of my expertise as possible in this short quarter.

At the same time, this is a formal, college level course with policies, procedures, deadlines, and requirements that everyone must follow. Please attentively read the following. When you participate in this course, you agree to follow the guidelines below and to conduct yourself in a manner that fosters a supportive and positive environment.


In the Modules, you will find the weekly handouts and assigned readings and the forums for workshops, the salon, and questions. 

Weekly Deadlines:

  • Weekly Handouts and Readings are posted on Thursdays by 11p, PST, the week before the Wednesday class meeting. 
  • Come to class prepared with all assignments completed.
  • Sketches and the final portfolio are due in the Weekly Workshop Module on Mondays by 11a, PST. 

Specific dates for weekly deadlines will also be included in the weekly lessons.

Check the Announcements: Whenever you log into the class, be sure to check the announcements page for updates, reminders, and notices. 

Weekly Lessons and Assignments: Each week before class, you will read handouts, assigned readings in the text, and one or more published works by established creative nonfiction writers. The published works serve as examples of the craft techniques we’re covering and the variety of writers’ styles and approaches to writing nonfiction. Following the lessons might be writing assignments based on the weekly lessons. I encourage you to print the documents and closely read them. You will need to refer to them throughout the course.

Rather than analyze the published works like a literary scholar, a book club participant, or a book reviewer, you will Read like a Writer, focusing on how the author uses craft to weave a vivid, engaging story. I emphasize reading like a writer, which includes reading widely and broadly, in my classes because it's one of the best ways to learn how to write well-crafted work.

Discussions: Every week in class, you will participate in class discussions. The purposes of the weekly discussions are to enhance your understanding of the topics covered in class and creative writing and to engage as a community of writers.

Drive-by discussions and responses will receive no credit. Drive by means quickly responding to meet the number required, but not making thoughtful contributions.

Writing/Workshops Through Week 3-4, you will be assigned to write short pieces, usually no longer than 500 words, in response to prompts I assign based on topics covered in class. These writings are referred to as "sketches." All sketches and the final portfolio will be written in first-person point of view (I / me) and past tense (further discussed in the first class meeting). Your sketches will be posted by the deadline in the weekly workshop forum for feedback.

Be sure to stick to the prompt and criteria of the assignment, submit your sketches on time, and follow the workshop policies and procedures, or your sketch might not be accepted and might not receive feedback from me.

Until the final portfolio, the sketches you submit for workshop might not be complete works. The focus is on deepening your understanding and getting practice in the specific craft techniques and strategies covered each week. You are encouraged to write longer drafts outside of class, just be sure to only submit what is assigned.

If your sketch exceeds the word limit, submit the beginning up to the word limit. Write, “To be continued” at a logical stopping point. Please, never cut details necessary for us to understand your sketch just to meet the word requirement; your writing will be weakened and confusing, you won't benefit from the writing assignment, and your grade will be adversely impacted. To be further discussed in class.

Some, if not all, of your sketches will evolve into your Final Portfolio: A revised and polished draft of your Week 4-5 sketch: 800-1,200 words in length. OR A revised and polished draft of your Week 4-5 sketch and one or more sketches you workshopped in class. The total word count for this portfolio, not each single work, is 1,000-1,200 words

While your final portfolio might contain new material needed to develop and flesh out your piece, your portfolio must be developed from a sketch or sketches originally workshopped in our class. Final Portfolios that do not meet these requirements will not be accepted. To be further discussed at a later date.

Participation: In order for everyone to benefit from the course, including you, your participation is needed. This is a college level formal course. Please be mindful and attentive. Students are expected to check for announcements and updates every 48 hours, complete assignments as assigned and by the deadlines, and engage in and make thoughtful contributions to the discussions and workshops. The more you participate, the more you will benefit from this course.

Writers’ Salon: You are encouraged to have lively, lengthy conversations in the Salon in the Modules. Let us know about upcoming literary events; recommend books and share websites; discuss writing related topics of interest; or just chat. I will also post relevant information and event announcements. Participation in the Salon is not required, but it is a great way to build community and get informed about creative writing beyond what's covered in the course.

Questions for the Instructor: Post your questions about procedures and assignments in the appropriate forum/page in the weekly Modules. I check it every day, Monday through Friday. Answers to students’ questions are often in the syllabus or weekly handouts and readings. Please first check these documents before posting a question. 


Whether you're taking this course for pleasure, to get practice in creative nonfiction, or to improve your writing skills, please keep in mind that this is a formal, college level course with deadlines and requirements that we're all required to follow. 

COMPLETE ASSIGNMENTS AS ASSIGNED: Sketches, feedback, discussions, and final portfolios that do not follow the requirements, including meeting the deadlines, will earn a zero. I do not give feedback on sketches and final portfolios that do not follow the requirements. Even if you are not taking the class for credit, you must follow the requirements in order to receive credit and feedback from me on your sketches and final portfolio. 

LATE WORK: Please plan your schedule accordingly. This course requires at least 6 hours a week, which includes 3 hours of in-class time and at least 3 hours outside of class time. You are responsible for submitting your work on time. Assignments posted after the deadline will receive no credit, and I might not be able to give your work feedback. For example, I download all sketches shortly after the deadline and begin reading and writing feedback. Because of my busy schedule, I often don't have time to follow up on late assignments. 

It's understandable that life circumstances might make it difficult for a student to meet the deadlines one week. Therefore, students may submit late assignments only one time and without penalty if all requirements are completed by the date arranged with me. The student must contact me to make arrangements with me no later than 48 hours after the deadline; it's best if you contact me ahead of the deadline when possible. However, no other late assignments are permitted.

The last week of class NO extensions are permitted except under extreme circumstances, such as a debilitating illness, and arrangements are made with me no later than 48 hours after the deadline. Official verification might be required.

CODE OF CONDUCT: If you choose to remain in this course, you are agreeing to follow the policies, requirements, and procedures in this syllabus and in the assignments, and to conduct yourself in a manner that fosters a supportive and positive environment. You are also responsible for the policies in the UCLA Extension Code of Student Conduct and the Writers’ Program Code of Conduct. We are a community during this six-week journey, and it's important that everyone follow the guidelines in order for everyone to benefit from and thrive in this course.

In addition:

  • Respect everyone’s time, including the instructor's, and meet the deadlines.
  • Be kind and respectful to everyone, including yourself. 

  • Respect everyone’s privacy. Everything shared in this room stays in this room.

  • I recommend that you keep a hardcopy of the contact information in "UCLA Extension Learning Support" below in case you have trouble accessing the course.
  • Be clear and specific in your posts, discussions, and feedback so we understand what you mean.


“A writing workshop is, in its ideal sense, a community of writers trying to help each other accomplish their best writing. Its first level of value is in its being a community, a gathering of people whose company nourishes each person's writing life.”~ David Huddle 

“The hardest part of being a writer in a workshop is to learn this: Be still, take everything in, and don’t defend.”~ Author unknown

Active participation in each workshop is one of the most important and valuable aspects of this course. In addition to reading like a writer and writing on a regular basis, critiquing your classmates’ work and watching it evolve over the quarter are excellent ways to learn about the craft of writing and how to improve your sketches. Furthermore, a workshop is a community. The students' feedback is just as important as the instructor’s.

In the workshops, you will comment on your classmates' writing and receive comments from them on your writing. After you have met the deadlines for the week, you will receive feedback from me, typically on the techniques covered that week and in previous
weeks. The critiquing process can sometimes be overwhelming for new and seasoned writers. Therefore, following are policies and procedures for giving useful, constructive feedback and to establish a positive critiquing environment. By taking care to apply these guidelines, our workshops will be positive and productive.

For Writers and Those Giving Feedback:

In order to maintain an objective perspective when discussing a classmate’s sketch, do not address the writing as though it is autobiographical. For example, refer to the “Narrator;" "the grandmother;” “the son.” Do not say, “You,” “your grandmother,” or "your son."

Do not ridicule or degrade your work or others. We must respect our work at any draft stage.

Don’t share your classmates' work with others.

Avoid comparing your work to others in the class or others to yours. You can only gauge your growth as a writer by your own work. Instead, be inspired by your classmates and the readings.

Drive-by discussions and responses do not meet the requirements and will receive no credit. Drive by means quickly responding to meet the number required, but not making thoughtful contributions.

When you workshop your sketches:

-While being mindful of meeting the deadline, avoid posting your sketch early unless you have a valid reason to do so. Time is needed for your sketch to evolve and for you to revise it and make corrections. Take time to experiment, play, and revise with fresh eyes. Do your best to flesh out your work and clean up errors before posting it in the workshop so it reads as you intended. Once you’ve posted your sketch in the workshop module, you will not be able to repost. Reposts will be deleted.

-Manuscript Format: Submit your sketches attached in a Word or rtf doc, in the appropriate workshop forum in the Modules. Follow these guidelines: Your sketch must be double-spaced with one-inch margins all around and Times Roman or Arial 12 pt. font. In the header, on the left or right, include your first and last names and the page number. Title your document with your first initial and last name, so I can identify it in my files: Example: lgonzalez.doc. This is a standard manuscript format for submitting to workshops, publications, agents, and editors.

-When you post your sketch in the workshop module, click reply to my original post to start a new thread specifically for your sketch. Check back in a few hours, or late morning if you posted it at night, to make sure we were able to access your file.

-Do not explain, defend, or apologize for your sketch. These are inappropriate and will not be permitted in our workshops.  

-Save all feedback for your future reference.

-When hearing or reading feedback on your sketches, keep in mind that our feedback is given in good will. We are doing our best to nourish your writing, but we are not necessarily right. You also might receive contradictory comments. Accept criticism that is applicable, and consider incorporating it into your revision.

-Wait until I ask you to speak before responding to feedback during the workshop, and be sure you're in the best frame of mind before responding. Feedback takes a while to digest. A comment that stung when you first heard or read it often makes good sense a few days, or a few weeks, later. In addition, consider the mood you’re in when reading feedback. You want to be as objective as possible. 

-When responding to feedback, do not explain or defend your sketch. Ask for clarification or an example of what the person meant. Examples of appropriate responses to feedback:

  • Thanking your classmates' for their feedback
  • Stating which feedback was helpful and why.
  • Asking for clarification or an explanation: “You said the image of the oak tree in the second stanza is striking. Please explain why.”
  • Asking for an example: "You said that my description of the kitchen could be more detailed. Could give me an example of what you mean?

Feedback Requirements and Process:

-You’re required to give feedback on your classmates’ sketches each week, even if you are not taking the class for credit. Your effort in and attention to giving feedback are needed in order for everyone to benefit from the class, including you.

-It’s understood that you are not a professional editor or expert on writing. Your stance should be that of a careful and interested reader. You're making observations the writer can take into the next draft or into other work.

-Before class, read the sketch several times, taking note of where you are engaged, where you were taken out, and why. Focus on the techniques we’ve covered. Be as objective as possible. Keep an open mind when the content differs from your personal values or beliefs, and do not let it interfere with your response. If you’re not the audience for a sketch, you can still discuss the craft we’ve covered.

-In your feedback, always begin with two or three comments about where you were pulled into the sketch and explain why. Then discuss only one or two areas where you were taken out of the sketch and explain why. Strive to offer new insights, and avoid repeating what a classmate has said. Be specific and concrete; feedback is most helpful when specific points are made. Refer to specific examples in the sketch.

-Be careful not to discuss how you would write it; you are not the writer of the sketch. In addition, do not address typos, grammar, or mechanics. If a piece is illegible, I will address it privately with the student before the class meets. We respect everyone's voice.

-The following two examples of feedback are useful because they are detailed, thorough, specific, explained well, and focused on specific aspects of craft, letting the writer know what is and isn’t working (at least for one reader). This type of feedback will earn credit:

“I was pulled into the scene when Kerry is getting dressed up. The specific details let me know that she is expecting something positive to happen between them, which added tension and forward movement. I was eager to keep reading to find out what happens next. The scene flows smoothly and it convincingly built up to the devastating moment; everything is believable. However, the tense abruptly changes, which confused me. For example, the beginning of the scene is in present tense, half way through, it changes to past tense.”

“The description of the narrator falling down the stairs is so vivid that I experienced her pain. The scene also develops her character; readers understand the connection between her emotional and physical pain. I was pulled out after the fall because she didn't let readers know her response to the fall. I wondered what went through her head. For example, when she looked up at her new boyfriend, did she wonder why he didn’t run to help her?”

The examples of feedback below are not useful to the writer because they do not give the writer anything specific to work on. This type of feedback will not earn credit, and you will be asked to elaborate with specific details and examples:

“I really love the images. I love the characters.” Feedback is not a review of a writer's sketch. To benefit the writer, the classmate needs to discuss where, specifically, they were pulled in/engaged and taken out and explain why.

“I really relate to this. I’ve been this place and had an experience like this there.” Feedback is supposed to be objective and focus on the sketch. If it's well described, the critic needs to go beyond personal experience and explain what is effective and why.

Feedback is supposed to be supportive and constructive. Destructive feedback (and destructive communication in general) will not be tolerated. See UCLA Extension's and the Writers' Program's codes of conduct for more information.

Examples of destructive feedback include: Reviewing the sketch like a harsh critic, stating negative judgments about the content or writer, basing feedback on what the critic personally dislikes, or their personal values. 

 By taking care to apply these guidelines when giving feedback, our workshops will be positive and productive.

Institutional Policies

Student Conduct

Students are subject to disciplinary action for several types of misconduct or attempted misconduct, including but not limited to dishonesty, such as cheating, multiple submission, plagiarism, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University; or theft or misuse of the intellectual property of others or violation of others' copyrights. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with policy provisions which proscribe these and other forms of misconduct at:

Services for Students with Disabilities

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, UCLA Extension provides appropriate accommodations and support services to qualified applicants and students with disabilities. These include, but are not limited to, auxiliary aids/services such as sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices for hearing-impaired individuals, extended time for and proctoring of exams, and registration assistance. Accommodations and types of support services vary and are specifically designed to meet the disability-related needs of each student based on current, verifiable medical documentation. Arrangements for auxiliary aids/services are available only through UCLA Extension’s Service for Students with Disabilities Office at (310) 825-7851 or by email at [email protected]. For complete information see:


Your instructor may post the interim grade Incomplete/I if at the end of the class your overall work is of passing quality but a portion could not be submitted for understandable reasons (e.g. illness). It is your responsibility to petition your instructor for permission to submit work late and to provide an explanation, and it is his or her sole decision whether to accept the explanation. If permitted, the Incomplete/I grade will be posted and a time frame defined for you to submit the missing work, ranging from one to twelve weeks. Incomplete/I grades that remain unchanged after twelve weeks will lapse to F, NP or U. Receiving an I grade entitles you to submit only the missing work your instructor has agreed to accept late, and does not allow other work to be retaken or oblige UCLA Extension to provide continuing access to course materials via Canvas. The Incomplete/I grade is not an option for courses that do not bear credit, such as 700, 800, or 900-level courses. For complete information, see:

All Grades are Final

No change of grade may be made by anyone other than the instructor, and then, only to correct clerical errors. No term grade except Incomplete may be revised by re-examination. The correction of a clerical error may be authorized only by the instructor of record communicating directly with personnel of Student and Alumni Services.

Sexual Harassment

The University of California is committed to creating and maintaining a community where all individuals who participate in University programs and activities can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of harassment, exploitation, or intimidation. Every member of the community should be aware that the University prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence, and that such behavior violates both law and University policy. The University will respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and will take appropriate action to prevent, to correct, and when necessary, to discipline behavior that violates our policy.

All Extension students and instructors who believe they have been sexually harassed are encouraged to contact the Department of Student and Alumni Services for complaint resolution: UCLA Extension, Suite 113, 10995 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Voice/TTY: (310) 825-7031. View the University’s full Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence at

Additional Items

About Your Online Course Materials

Please note the following about online course components at UCLA Extension:

  • Students must have basic computer skills, including the use of word processing software, email, and the ability to use internet browsers, such as Safari, Firefox, or Chrome.
  • Students are responsible for meeting the technical requirements of Canvas and familiarizing themselves with the Canvas Learning Management System.
  • Students are responsible for keeping a copy of all assignments and work submitted, and to be aware of all assignments, due dates, and course guidelines.
  • Students are encouraged to keep and/or download a local copy of their assignment files, as access to the online environment of a specific course is limited to 30 days after the final course date, as listed in the course catalog.

    If you need assistance downloading student materials from your course, please contact Canvas Support or the UCLA Extension Learning Support Team.

UCLA Extension Canvas and Learning Support

For immediate 24/7 Canvas technical support, including holidays, click on Help (located on the menu to the left) where you can call or chat live with a Canvas Support representative.

UCLA Extension Instructional Design and Learning Support
The UCLA Extension Learning Support staff assists both students and instructors with Canvas-related technical support, as well as general and administrative questions.

Learning Support staff is available Monday through Friday, from 8 AM to 5 PM (Pacific Time), except holidays:


Weekly Schedule and Deadlines 

  • Weekly Handouts and Readings are posted on Thursdays, by 11p, PST, the week before the Wednesday class meeting. 
  • Come to class prepared with all assignments completed.
  • Sketches and the final portfolio are due in the Weekly Workshop Module on Mondays by 11a, PST. 


This schedule might change to fit the needs of the class. Be sure to check the modules for updates.

See the Weekly Lessons & Assignments for specific, detailed information and instructions

Course calendar and related activities
When Topic Notes
Week 1
Introductions, Course Overview, Reading Like a Writer, Gathering Ideas / Prewriting
Week 2
Memoir, Scene, Characterization, and Dialogue
Week 3
Personal Essay, Summary, and Musing
Week 4
Voice/Narrator, Vivid Language, and Describing a Place
Week 5
Week 6
Final Projects